Thursday, July 31, 2014

Amb. Taylor to Congress: Russia is 'greatest threat to peace in Europe'

Hon. William Taylor, now of the U.S. Institute of Peace, had this to say to Congress on July 29 about Russia's war in Ukraine [emphasis mine]:

In my view we must confront the Russian war against Ukraine.  This aggression started with the quiet invasion of Crimea last spring.  A sham, at-the-end-of-a-rifle referendum was followed by an illegal annexation.  The international community should not allow that annexation to stand.  Until that situation is resolved to the satisfaction of Ukraine, the Russiarn government should pay serious penalties to Ukraine for the temporary loss of income and illegally confiscated assets that would have come to Ukraine from Crimea.

The international community did not confront the Kremlin over Crimea.  As a consequence, the Russians continued their aggression in Donetsk and Luhansk.  The leaders of the separatist movement have become almost exclusively Russian, and Russian equipment flows across the border unimpeded.  This equipment—including sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons—shot down the Malaysian airliner killing 298 people.  No matter what individual separatist pushed the button to fire the weapon—let’s be clear, Mr. Chairman-- the tragedy is Russian responsibility.

So Taylor is the second former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine (after John Herbst) to exhort the United States to aid Ukraine militarily, among other means:

[T]he international community, led by the United States, should provide Ukraine with the means to eliminate the separatist forces in their country.  This means weapons, military advice, intelligence, and financial support to pay and equip their soldiers.

July 31, 2014 | Kyiv Post

Globalization is over; or, Tom Friedman is a dope

Yes indeed, the Tom Friedman conception of globalization (The Lexus and the Olive Tree; The World Is Flat).was always too glib, optimistic and it cherry-picked success stories to paint a rosy picture.

Now we see how useless was Tom Friedman's "Golden Arches theory of conflict prevention," with Russia attacking its neighbors and fellow McDonald's countries Ukraine and Georgia, and threatening to further destabilize or attack a third McDonald's country, Moldova. 

And several more "McDonald's conflicts" -- Vietnam-China, Japan-China, EU-Russia, and US-Russia -- are starting or now underway.

Leonard's article is worth reading in full, wherein he describes how the globe is moving:
  • From free trade to economic warfare
  • From global governance to competitive multilateralism
  • From one Internet to many.
Leonard redeems the post-Cold War analysis of military strategist Edward Luttwak, who predicted that "as in earlier generations, the driving force of international relations would be conflict rather than trade. As he put it, we would have 'the grammar of commerce but the logic of war.'"

Here is Leonard's conclusion [emphasis mine]:

Interdependence, formerly an economic boon, has now become a threat as well. No one is willing to lose out on the benefits of a global economy, but all great powers are thinking about how to protect themselves from its risks, military and otherwise. China is moving toward domestic consumption after the threat of the U.S. financial crisis. America is moving toward energy independence after the Iraq War. Russia is trying to build a Eurasian Union after the euro crisis. And even internationalist Germany is trying to change the EU so that its fellow member states are bound into German-style policies.

In the years after the Cold War, interdependence was a force for ending conflict.  But in 2014, it is creating it. After 25 years of being bound together ever more tightly, the world seems intent on resegregating itself. 

To be fair, Leonard's conclusion might also be too glib; one could argue that globalization was never happening to the extent that it was hyped. A lot of economic globalization -- more than 1/3 of economic activity -- has been intra-company and inter-company trade, i.e. companies trading with themselves across borders to access cheaper labor markets and other cost efficiencies, tax preferences and laxer regulation. 

Meanwhile, rival countries have not forgotten their historical and geopolitical grudges in the name of "free trade;" they have simply adopted new strategies of conflict management.

UPDATE (09.08.2014): Here's Anne Applebaum in the Washington Post a couple weeks later cribbing Mark Leonard's column, complete with the same McDonald's analysis: "Russia's blow to globalization." 

By Mark Leonard
July 30, 2014 | Reuters

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Khrushcheva: Putin's rhetoric turns long-time Russian critics into rabid backers

It's a shame that there seem to be no more liberals or internationalists left in Russia:  

People I know in Russia, members of the intelligentsia and professionals who have long been critical of President Vladimir Putin’s anti-Western stance, have suddenly turned into America-bashers. Many have been swept away by Putin’s arguments that the United States, not the Kremlin, is destabilizing Ukraine.

[...]  A (now former) friend recently told me, “How dare you look for answers when Russia is under the attack of the ‘new colonialism,’ ” — a “threat” that Putin first spoke of in 2007.

The Kremlin is banking on this time-tested totalitarian propaganda technique: Use overwhelming patriotic fervor against an enemy. Then your people, even if skeptical of you, will not believe the words of other governments.  

Unfortunately, I can say that I'm also at risk of losing a few friends over Russia's aggression against Ukraine. Many Russians have simply gone crazy these past few months....

U.S. offers up 'war reserves' to rearm Israel's killing machine

From the standpoint of U.S. security against terrorism, this is the stupidest policy imaginable: supplying the Israelis with "emergency" munitions to help them finish their slaughter of Palestinian civilians (over 1,300 and counting... meanwhile Israel has lost 3 civilians).

The Arab-Muslim world sees Israel's crimes in Gaza and it outrages them.  Meanwhile, the U.S. does not stand innocently apart from this killing; and we're not an honest broker. We are an accessory before the fact to Israel's murder and violation of international laws and norms (such as demolishing crowded schools and shelling street markets).

If my American friends -- especially conservatives -- could do the mental heavy-lifting to put themselves in an Arab's shoes for a minute, then perhaps they would understand why $ billions of U.S. military aid to Israel is nowadays an awfully dangerous (not to mention immoral) policy for America.

The blowback potential is enormous. Right now, Uncle Sam is recruiting hundreds if not thousands of soldiers for al Qaeda and other Islamist groups.

UPDATE (31.07.2014): Here's another Reuters article that shows the desperation of Palestinian civilians that have nothing to do with Hamas or attacks on Israel, yet they are being targeted by Israel's military: "Under fire and out of cash, U.N. overwhelmed by Gaza crisis." Meanwhile, UN officials are in tears, powerless to help them all.

By Phil Stewart and Patricia Zengerle
July 30, 2014 | Reuters

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Amb. Herbst: As desperate Putin ups ante, West must aid Ukraine

I agree with Ambassador Herbst's analysis 100%.  Putin's decision to make Russia's military intervention in Ukraine more open is an act of desperation in reaction to the great gains by the Ukrainian military in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions against Russian mercenaries, irregulars and undercover soldiers and spies.

His recommendation is also correct: Western military aid and intelligence for Ukraine's military to balance the scales against more powerful Russia.

By John E. Herbst
July 27, 2014 | Atlantic Council

The war in Ukraine has heated up significantly in the ten days since the Russian-led and supplied insurgents shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. Ukrainian forces retook the city of Lysychansk from the rebels late last week and have established control over most of their border with Russia. They are advancing on the city of Horlivka, a stronghold of the rebels and a gateway to Donetsk, the principal city of the Donbas region.

The Ukrainians’ steady advance, and the prospect that they might seal the border and cut insurgent supply lines, have led the government of President Vladimir Putin to again escalate its intervention in Ukraine. In addition to keeping up a steady flow of armored vehicles, missile systems and fighters to its agents in southeastern Ukraine, the Kremlin has sent heavy artillery. Russian forces along the Ukrainian border are directly attacking the Ukrainian military with artillery fire. In some locations, Ukrainian forces are under fire by the separatists to their west and the Russians to their east.

For Moscow, Ukrainian gains could not have come at a worse time. The European public’s fury at the destruction of MH17 only grew due to the spectacle at the crash site of an obstructed investigation, the looting of the remains and the carting off of evidence. This is driving ever-cautious European politicians to consider, for the first time, serious sanctions. 

Kremlin Assault: No Longer Covert

Frustrated at European reluctance to consider serious sanctions, the United States has begun to publicize details from its intelligence reporting on the extraordinary Kremlin effort to keep the insurgency viable. This includes the supply of advanced weaponry and the maintenance of a major supply depot for the separatists in Rostov. The State Department today released its most detailed evidence yet, including satellite images, showing Russia’s artillery attacks on Ukraine.

In short, the mask has come off Moscow’s “covert” aggression in Ukraine.

What has become clear over the past several weeks is that, despite years of corrupt leadership and Russian subversion, Ukraine’s security forces have the will and the means to defeat a Kremlin assault that seeks the political cover of pretending to be a local, Ukrainian insurgency. Until this point, Mr. Putin has preferred this notionally “covert” campaign, which lets him issue the formal denials that minimize the risk of Europe imposing major sanctions. But the Ukrainian military gains have forced him into the risky decision to attack Ukraine directly, with his own artillery forces.

The West Must Respond

Moscow will watch carefully to see how the West reacts to this latest crossed red line. If Europe does not join the US now in introducing truly punishing sanctions, Mr. Putin will draw the conclusion that he can get away with the next logical escalation: the introduction of Russian aircraft to take control of eastern Ukraine’s skies, or of more sophisticated tanks.

With Russia’s escalation, it has grown urgent (and already is long past time) for the U.S. and/or NATO to provide the basically defensive military equipment that offsets the armament Moscow has introduced into the conflict.  That should include anti-armor, anti-aircraft, and anti-missile weapons.  Ukraine also desperately needs Western intelligence support. With the right combination of major sanctions and military equipment, the West will help Kyiv defeat Mr. Putin’s dangerous adventure. Anything less invites trouble, not just in Ukraine, but elsewhere on Russia’s periphery where Russian speakers happen to reside.

John E. Herbst is director of the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council. He served as the US ambassador to Ukraine from 2003 to 2006.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Personal blogs are dead; long live professional blogs?

I meant to re-post this sooner, "Should we mourn the end of blogs?" I identify with Mel Campbell's sentiments:

I keep on blogging because, compared to tweeting for thousands of followers or posting to hundreds of Facebook friends, the single-digit pageviews my blog now attracts are a paradoxically private way to express myself.

Yep, call me a Gen-X dinosaur, but I'm sticking with my blog, too. ("I'm so 2008; I'm so 2000 and late.") To me, prose is still more powerful and precise than photo or video. Most times I don't even add photos to my posts. Why bother? It's not my content; my value added is the written word.

That said, the format of this blog is mainly re-posts, a kind of Twitter without the character limit. This blog is basically my personal filing cabinet of opinions and what's most important in world events... minus the Kardashians, naturally.

Believe it or not, I get anywhere from 300 to 900 pageviews a day, (over 200,000 overall), and that's without banners, monetization, SEO, linking to other blogs, or otherwise trying to promote it. Most of my acquaintances don't even know I have a blog. Those pageviews are simply because I've got 2,613 posts and counting, some of them on arcane or abstruse topics, and so I get Google's respect.

At any rate, like they say, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, so in honor of all you Millennials with yer Instagrams, enjoy this collection of cheesy, awkward, terrible and obnoxious selfies!

I'm shocked that Geraldo, after decades as a distinguished TV journalist, went in for this venal self-promotion thing on social networks like the kids.

Actually she still looks really f-able.

Inappropriate? I'm on the fence.

Is this what passes for self-expression nowadays?
"These flames make my teeth look really sparkly."
Don't worry, I think it's really Tyler Perry in there, acting.
Good thought, bad timing. 
"Well, I'm the only one here so you must be talkin' to me!"
Dude, I tried, but enlarging this photo didn't help.
And this concludes my gettin' with the times.

By Mel Campbell
July 16, 2014 | Guardian

Treasury: Congress must halt foreign tax inversions

You recall I've written about tax inversions recently; they're a crock and they're un-American. Here's Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew's take on what Congress should do to stop this flood of inversions [emphasis mine]:

To make sure the merged company is not merely masquerading as a non-U.S. company, shareholders of the foreign company would have to own at least 50 percent of the newly merged company — the current legal standard requires only 20 percent. This approach is based on a bipartisan law enacted in 2004 and could serve as a basis for a bipartisan solution again. Right now, leaders in Congress have put forward strong legislation that adopts elements of this plan.

For legislation to be effective, it must be retroactive. Current proposals in Congress would apply to any inversion deal after early May of this year. The alternative — legislation taking effect after the president signs it into law — could have the perverse effect of encouraging corporations to act more quickly, negotiate new deals and rush to close those transactions before the bill is enacted. 

And here's Lew's conclusion:

Our tax system should not reward U.S. companies for giving up their U.S. citizenship, and unless we tackle this problem, these transactions will continue. Closing the inversion loophole is no substitute for comprehensive business tax reform, but it is a necessary step down the path toward a fair and more efficient tax system, and a step that needs to be in a place for tax reform to work.

Now it's time for Congress to act.

By Jacob J. Lew
July 27, 2014 | Washington Post

Report: Reducing U.S. prison population reduces crime

Here's yet another conservative myth busted [emphasis mine]:

The [Sentencing Project's] report points to New York, New Jersey and California as examples of how moving toward more lenient punishments for non-violent offenders is linked to lower rates of both violent crime and property crime. While the nation's state prison population shot up by 10 percent from 1999 to 2012 with violent and property crime dropping by 26 percent and 24 percent, respectively, New York and New Jersey each slashed their prison populations by 26 percent and saw crime drop a respective 31 percent and 30 percent during the same period.

"At least in three states we now know that the prison population can be reduced by about 25% with little or no adverse effect on public safety," The Sentencing Project's Marc Mauer and Nazgol Ghandnoosh wrote in their report. "Individual circumstances vary by state, but policymakers should explore the reforms in New York, New Jersey, and California as a guide for other states."

By Lydia O'Connor
July 24, 2014 | Huffington Post

Russian military, FSB openly command 'rebels' in Ukraine

Putin's fig leaf of "separatism" is gone; this is now an out-in-the-open Russian war against Ukraine

Is this the beginning of a wider-ranging Russian war of aggression in Eastern Europe?

By Gabriela Baczynska and Aleksandar Vasovic
July 27, 2014 | Reuters

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Unemployed don't need job training, they need jobs

Peter Van Buren's view is pretty controversial. Then again, anything that refutes accepted wisdom usually is controversial.

On Van Buren's side though is economics: supply and demand. Giving unemployed people job skills or even training in trades is like working only on the (labor) supply side, while ignoring whether those skills or trades are demanded by employers.

"So the $18 billion question is: If job training is not the answer, what is?" asks Van Buren.

The obvious answers, grounded in tested economics, will make self-styled "free-marketers" uncomfortable [emphasis mine]:

Jobs. Jobs that pay a living wage. The 2008 recession wiped out primarily high- and middle-wage jobs, with the strongestemployment growth in the recovery taking place in low-wage employment, to the point where the United States has the highest number of workers in low-wage jobs of all industrialized nations.

There are many possible paths to better-paying jobs in the United States where consumer spending alone has the power to spark a “virtuous cycle.” That would mean more employment leading to more spending and more demand, followed by more hiring. One kickstarter is simply higher wages in the jobs we do have. For example, recent Department of Labor studies show that the 13 states that raised their minimum wages added jobs (at higher wages of course) at a faster pace than those that did not. On a larger, albeit more contentious scale, are options such as a WPA-like program, changes to tax and import laws to promote domestic manufacturing, infrastructure grants and the like. There’s the $18 billion being spent on job training that could be repurposed for a start.

No matter the path forward, the bottom line remains unchanged: Training does not create jobs. Jobs create the need for training. Anything else is just politics.

Nevertheless, I imagine that Democrats and Republicans wouldn't be willing to give up the promising-sounding idea of jobs training. Therefore my suggestion is for the government to pay for job training only when it is tied to a real job offer at a real company. I mean, first a company must say, "I promise, before the government spends a cent on training, to hire x  number of workers who have mastered a, b and c  skills."  That might work. Then the government would have to hold them to it. 

But I doubt that many companies would go for it; they'd want to retain right of refusal.

By Peter Van Buren
July 23, 2014 | Reuters

Studies: Student athletes less likely to exercise as adults

Here's yet another reason why organized sports should be banned from our public schools: they actually set up "athletes" for inactivity and health problems like obesity later in life. You may recall how the women's college Spellman abolished its sports programs and used the money instead to have fitness classes for all students.

Like so many things for kids nowadays, athletic training is over-structured and requires very little thought, creativity or free will by the participants: parents and coaches organize it all.  

So when there are no more adults around to tell athletes what to do and when, or to hand out awards and ribbons, these athletes lose interest and motivation.

As I've said before, our schools should re-institute recess and gym class, and teach our kids good fitness and healthy eating -- skills that will serve them well throughout life -- and not how to chase balls around, since most of them will stop playing their sport in adulthood.

By Shawn C. Sorenson
July 25, 2014 | Washington Post

Can corporations become President or get married? (Ruductio ad ridiculum)

Ha-ha! I would venture even further into the absurd than Weingarten. For the same conservatives who granted corporations personhood and the same rights as people are the same ones who believe that all rights are inalienable (meaning, no man or government can take them away) because they come from God.

Well if that's true for corporations then... Can corporations go to heaven? I mean, can corporations be baptized, receive the sacraments and be redeemed by accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior? After all, the Supreme Court just established that corporations, as people, can practice religion.

Conversely, can corporations go to hell?  (If they can be damned, it's too bad that we can't even put a corporation in jail here on Earth.)

But wait, corporations already have the potential for eternal life -- a going concern. So what do they need heaven for? After all, the death of a corporation results from their economic failure -- something conservatives believe merits the "death penatly."  If dead corporations were nevertheless "good" before their dissolution, will they be resurrected by God on Judgment Day?

Furthermore, should corporations be allowed to carry firearms? After all, I'm sure that engineers could rig up robotic machine-gun turrets to the corporation's offices and other facilities that would operate independently of any er, human hand. Moreover, if a corporation "saw" with its camera "eyes" a suspicious man approaching its offices -- say, a black youth in a hoodie carrying some Skittles and a rotten egg to throw -- would the corporation be entitled to "stand its ground" and shoot him dead?

And shouldn't corporations also be allowed to vote? I mean, they have free speech (= political donation$), they can support political parties and candidates, and yet they don't have the most fundamental human right in a democracy, the right to vote!?  That seems illogical and unjust.

On the flip side, Weingarten's colleague at the Washington Post Catherine Rampell wondered why people can't enjoy some of the legal rights of corporations. I mean, we're all people, right? People are people. Therefore, said Rampell, people should be allowed to register their diploma (intellectual property) in Bermuda and and then claim their lifetime earnings -- thanks to said diploma -- for tax in Bermuda, even if they happen to live and work in the U.S. After all this is what Apple and other "American" corporations do with their patents.

In his piece, Weingarten wonders if corporations can have gay marriages and be charged with rape -- more good questions that will probably be decided by our absurdist Supreme Court soon!....

By Gene Weingarten
July 25, 2014 | Washington Post

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Skibinskiy: Russia - a 'failed, mafia state' - sees Ukraine's break as 'existential threat'

(HT: NK). Here are links to two blog posts (Part 1 and Part 2) by a Russian emigre Max Skibinskiy who works in Silicon Valley.  They're long so I'm going to highlight the best parts. Here's from Part 1, about Russia today [emphasis mine]:

Russia was and is a failed state. What is seen from the outside is just a facade imitating a functional country and government. High oil prices, residual infrastructure of USSR and internal mass propaganda machine maintained the illusion for more than a decade.

[...]   In simple terms, Russia is a mafia state. All the way from Moscow to regions and to small towns, everything is controlled by various mafia gangs. Police and judiciary are parts of most powerful gangs. They usually assist in extortion or theft of property earned by local small and medium size businessmen. Big business is subject to federal mafia clan wars.

The mafia-state formation is logical consequence of Russian economy: it is totally dominated by oil and gas revenues. Oil, gas and derivatives provide meaningful employment to about 1M people. Russian population is about 150M. How do they survive? The majority depends on various forms of government handouts.

With Russian-style oil production you don’t have to think, innovate or even hire smart people. All you have to do is to cash the check. Gazprom is ranked as one of the most grossly inefficient enterprises in the world. So what happens when a small, totally incompetent minority controls country-wide oil rent while the rest of 149 million people are a burden? The answer is obvious: that 1M would create a mafia state to keep the rest of 149M in check by means of police and judiciary abuse and mass propaganda.

Russian propaganda machine is vast, it now exceeds the one of Soviet Union. 

About the degradation of the Russian population:

The population at large is, statistically speaking, not very bright. Many are deranged from overuse of alcohol or drugs.  A big number are simply aging elderly rooted in USSR-centric mindset who never adjusted to the modern world.  Most of them do not “work” in the sense we understand full-time employment here: they occupy placeholder positions sponsored by the government. Being dependent their whole life on government help, they are psychologically unable even to think government can do something wrong.

About the Russian "brand":

I think we came to the end of the line with regards to Russia as a name, culture, a global brand. For the time being the country future is destroyed, police state is well-entrenched and the narrative for the brainwashed locals would be xenophobic tale of struggle with the “West”.

And here he finally gets to Ukraine:

The differences between “Ukrainian” and “Russian” people are cosmetic. [I certainly disagree, as did many of Max's readers, and he corrected himself in Part 2, basically saying Russians come from Kievan Rus', which is historically accurate and another reason Putin doesn't want to "lose" Ukraine. - J]  The distance between Kiev and Moscow is about same as Sacramento to San Diego. Even today, after all that happened, the most likely language you will hear on the streets of Kiev is Russian. So why Kremlin was so enraged about recent Ukrainian revolution? After all Ukraine has no natural gas or oil, there were no riches to divide, what was the fuss all about?

What happened is that first time in history, large group of ethnic “Russians” had overthrown a mafia clan in a popular uprising.  Until then, Ukraine was a satellite state, and exactly because it had no natural oil and gas, much larger portion of the population had to develop “creative class” skills rather than going to work for oil company or police enforcement. Then suddenly this social group had enough heft and popular power to overthrow local mafia don.

You can imagine the amount of terror it produced in the gang occupying Kremlin right now.  If was and still is an extensional threat to them, hence they pulled out all the stops to overthrow or destabilize a new government in Kiev, and at the same time whip out xenophobic mass-hysteria in a local population.

At this moment, Kremlin can not really stop. If Kiev government survives, it will fairly quickly unlock economic benefits of non-mafia, free economy. The large parasitic class living by bribes and extortion will be displaced: it will have the same effect as if base tax rate would suddenly drop by a double digit percentage. Next door, progressive Russians would quickly notice and spread information about growing prosperity and opportunity in a city next door. What was half million Euro-leaning progressives, would become a million, then few million: before long you can picture a Gaddafi-style demise for the Kremlin gang.

Kremlin is fighting for its own survival: supplying weapon system and military crew to a roaming criminal gangs [in Ukraine] is nothing for them in big scheme of things.

And here's what Silicon Valley can do to help Ukraine:
  • Help Ukraine. They have terrific outsourcing shops and consulting firms. Send them business if you can. Recent revolution would unlock even more creative force in this economically modest, yet energetic country. They are the first large group of ethnic “Russians” who become free on their own power and valor. To understand the scale of that achievement, here is the last group of Russians who were not ruled by khans, czars, communist chairmans or KGB generals: Free Novgorod Republic. That was over 1000 years go. Ukraine was a cradle of Russian civilization – they might become a source of its rebirth yet again.
  • Boycott anything and everything related to Russian government and associated banks and corporations. Any business you send to them only strengthen the regime. Your contract dollars will pay for next Buk missile.

Then in Part 2, here is what Max says about Ukrainians's and Russians' common heritage:

Ukrainian side, deservedly, had a lot of critique for calling Ukrainians “ethnic Russians”. It was interpreted as usual Russian chauvinism rejecting Ukrainian identity, language and rights as a sovereign nation. Ouch.

My apologies to Ukrainians. From a historical perspective I was referring to, the article would be unchanged if I were to say “Russia is populated by ethnic Ukrainians from Kievan-Rus“. did astute and very subtle translation as “Russich”, which precisely the meaning I was trying to convey. Keep in mind, there is no English word I know for “Russich”, and if one exists, I’m sure last person around here who knew it left after he locked gates at Fort Ross after himself.

In Part 2, here's his take on economic sanctions against Russia:

At the same time, make no mistake: current Russian’s regime is ruthless, efficient and fully in control. It not going to change soon, especially with 81% popularity rating. It has no obvious weaknesses besides potential economic collapse from sanctions (and still would take 10 to 20 months  and resulting political change that might not be for the better at all). The ruling elite is not considering Russia their homeland: it is occupied territory with captive native population to be exploited for monetary gain which is to be squirreled away overseas. If country and it’s people would be irrevocably ruined by the process so be it: the elite and their children will just permanently move their European residences.

That is the key problem that makes sanctions such a blunt and imprecise weapon: until they include all extended families of the corrupt Russian government-industrial complex officials they are toothless.  If they do include them (and assets registered in the name of *all* their relatives) it will have big negative impact on EU/UK economy, and it becomes equivalent of nuclear weapon against Russian ruling class: they will have absolutely nothing to loose [sic], the whole purpose of their life (Western wealth) would be wiped out in an instant. In general, it is not a smart move to put a nuclear-armed power in that position.

And on how Kiev's techies are smarter than Moscow's:

Kiev is a cosmopolitan European capital with good climate and great people. Unlike Moscow, it much less infected with toxic poison of oil and gas revenues – here you got to work to make your fortune. I observed many times that when it comes to cutting edge technologies Ukranian and Kiev teams are far ahead of Russia as whole – and Russia is a pretty big place! The reason is simple: Kiev teams already compete, learn and grown on the world level – they wouldn’t get any contracts otherwise. Russian teams always have a fallback to easy low-competency contracts driven by oil and gas: they have much less pressure to become exceptionally good. That how global technology competition works.

Posted by Max
July 20, 2014 | The Vault of the Future

July 25, 2014

Friday, July 25, 2014

Watch 'Jaffa: The Orange's Clockwork' (2010)

This documentary by Israeli filmmaker Eyal Sivan is excellent and fair-minded.  I haven't been able to find the whole thing in English yet, only this shortened version. For my francophone friends, the entire film is on YouTube with French subtitles: 

The film gives the lie to a lot of myths about Palestine, Zionism and the founding of the Israeli state, foremost that Palestine was a desert wasteland, "A land crying out to the West, 'Come, save me. Come, conquer me.'"  It's especially important now to remember real history, as Israel has killed more than 800 Palestinians and injured more than 5000, many of them civilians, in occupied Gaza in revenge for the murder of three Israelis.

Director's statement

Jaffa, The Orange’s Clockwork is a political essay unfolding the story of the invention and the visual history of the world’s wide famous citrus fruit originated in Palestine and known around the world as "Jaffa oranges". While the orange become the symbol of the Zionist enterprise and the state of Israel, for Palestinians it symbolises the lost of their homeland and its destruction. Through a careful reading of the visual representation of the brand, the film reflects on western phantasms related to the ‘Orient’ the ‘holy land’ and the State of Israel and unveils the untold story of what was ones a commune symbol and industry to Arabs and Jews in Palestine.

The oranges of Jaffa, the fruits, the orchards, the brand name and the city - that gave to the fruit its name, are the backdrop of the commune Jewish-Arab life in Palestine before the establishment of Israel, the colonial covetousness, the account of obliteration, nationalization, then repudiation in order to propose a joint historical narrative.

Watch it!

Khrushcheva: Remember when USSR shot down S. Korean airliner

I would like to be so optimistic that Putin is digging his own grave with his neo-imperial, 19th century foreign policy against his near neighbors such as Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.

But my gut tells me he won't quit out of embarrassment at "worldwide condemnation" or even because of crippling sectoral sanctions on Russia's economy. He'll keep going till somebody stops him, by force.

That's certainly what Poland, the Baltics, Romania and others like Kazakhstan are worrying about right now: which one of them is next?

Solar storm almost cost us $2 trillion

I think it's safe to say that free-market forces are our best defense against electrical grid-frying solar flares. There's no reason for Big Governments to plan ahead to mitigate CMEs.

Yep, the Sun is no match for the Invisible Hand!

Solar flare preceding CMEs on July 22, 2012 (NASA)

By Jason Samenow
July 23, 2014 | Washington Post

Thursday, July 24, 2014

U.S. State Dept.: Russia firing artillery over border at Ukraine's military

Anybody who thought that "worldwide condemnation" for shooting down flight MH-17 was going to alter Putin's plans should think again.

Russia's President Putin respects only one thing: force.  Or the economic equivalent of getting punched in the nose. That's why US-EU sectoral sanctions against Russia must be put in place now. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. should start sending fuel, supplies, and defensive ammunition and weapons to Ukraine's military.  A good sign: ateam of U.S. military advisers is being sent to Ukraine to assess what kind of U.S. assistance they need. But Obama must accelerate the pace.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The GOP insurgent who heralded the Progressive Era and paved the way for the Tea Parties (Atlantic)

"He’s a fanatic," charged a corporate attorney, "and the way that man goes around spreading discontent is a menace to law, property, business, and all American institutions. If we don’t stop him here he will go out and agitate all over the United States. We’re getting him now; you’ll get him next. That man must be blocked."

"Yes," added an indignant banker, "La Follette will spread socialism all over the world."

Well, according to Glenn Beck, that's just what La Follette and others did in the early 1900s -- by starting the Progressive Movement.

In fact, the Progressives, who were born out of the corrupt 19th century GOP, saved capitalism and American democracy for almost a century. What do I mean? Let me quote myself from 2007:

Progressives wanted government to take action against rising economic inequality, discrimination against freed blacks, child labor, squalid living conditions and "slumlords," price discrimination and monopolies; high protective tariffs; and in general, gov't serving Big Business.

Progressive reforms included: breaking up trusts and interlocking directorates; new food safety standards (Meat Inspection Act and Pure Food and Drug Act); sanitation codes for sweatshops; reform of "reform" schools and prisons; workmen's compensation laws; use of the political referendum; direct election of U.S. Senators via the 17th Amendment (they called the Senate the "Millionaires Club" even back then!); regulation of the railroads through the 1903 Elkins Act and local public utilities commissions; and state corrupt-practices acts. They also campaigned for women's suffrage, the 8-hour workday, and prohibition, but weren't successful until the 1920s.

Sounds like a bunch of stuff straight outta Marx, huh?  In fact it's the America we know today, a country we wouldn't want to give up.

Says Wolraich in The Atlantic  of La Follette:

If "Fighting Bob" were alive today, he’d be howling in the Capitol. A hundred years before the Tea Parties, Senator Bob La Follette of Wisconsin was the original Republican insurgent. In the early 1900s, he led a grassroots revolt against the GOP establishment and pioneered the ferocious tactics that the Tea Parties use today—long-shot primary challenges, sensational filibusters, uncompromising ideology, and populist rhetoric. But there was a crucial difference between La Follette and today’s right-wing insurgents: “Fighting Bob” was a founding father of the progressive movement.

Git yerselves edumacated and read on!....

By Michael Wolraich
July 22, 2014 | The Atlantic

New Putin laws crack down on free speech, assembly and Internet

Get used to these restrictions on your liberty and more to come, you Putin-loving Russians. 

Uncle Vova isn't going anywhere, and he knows what's best for you.

Yale prof.: How privileged kids can 'avoid becoming out-of-touch, entitled little shits'

You might have seen that movie Admission with Tina Fey. I watched it on a plane, quaffing a lot of red wine with my tiny meal, so parts of it really got to me.... Anyhow, if the admissions process at Ivy schools is anything like in that movie... it's no wonder today's well-groomed leaders are out-of-touch, elitist, uncreative, self-absorbed a-holes.

Here's how Deresiewicz sums it up:

Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it.

Sedulous readers might recall how back in 2007 I re-posted an Atlantic article by conservative pundit David Brooks with similar sentiments, "The Organization Kid." Unlike Deresiewicz, Brooks also worried that kids today are too coddled (safe) and pleasantly addled with mollifying prescription pharmaceuticals:

All your life you have been pleasing your elders, performing and enjoying the hundreds of enrichment tasks that dominated your early years. You are a mentor magnet. You spent your formative years excelling in school, sports, and extracurricular activities. And you have been rewarded with a place at a wonderful university filled with smart, successful, and cheerful people like yourself. [...] The world they live in seems fundamentally just. If you work hard, behave pleasantly, explore your interests, volunteer your time, obey the codes of political correctness, and take the right pills to balance your brain chemistry, you will be rewarded with a wonderful ascent in the social hierarchy. 

Of course, Brooks said the problem is that we've taken the moral backbone out of elite education, that "when it comes to character and virtue, the most mysterious area of all, suddenly the laissez-faire ethic rules: You're on your own, Jack and Jill; go figure out what is true and just for yourselves." In other words, elite education is OK, as long as it inculcates a touch of roughhousing rebel sensibility and dash of Christian noblesse oblige in future leaders.

Brooks and  Deresiewicz agree that these coddled kids are less likely to be brave and original than their parents or grandparents, because, as Deresiewicz describes it:

Look beneath the fa├žade of seamless well-adjustment, and what you often find are toxic levels of fear, anxiety, and depression, of emptiness and aimlessness and isolation. A large-scale survey of college freshmen recently found that self-reports of emotional well-being have fallen to their lowest level in the study’s 25-year history.

So extreme are the admission standards now that kids who manage to get into elite colleges have, by definition, never experienced anything but success. The prospect of not  being successful terrifies them, disorients them. The cost of falling short, even temporarily, becomes not merely practical, but existential. The result is a violent aversion to risk. You have no margin for error, so you avoid the possibility that you will ever make an error. 

Personally, I find Deresiewicz's thesis, minus Brooks' moral backbone stuff, more convincing. Smart kids from privileged families learn a lot, they're polite, kind and well-intentioned, but they're so busy with studying, extracurriculars and having "essay-ready summers" that they don't experience real life the way most other kids do. For example, if they work it's because they WANT to, because it looks good on a college application, not because the HAVE to.  

I'm not saying all high schoolers should work. No, at least not during the school year. Studying is their job, forget sports and extracurriculars. At the same time, public university should be free for those with good grades, like it is in Europe. That should be the new social contract: study hard, free college. It's also the smartest investment we could make in our workforce. (And those who aren't cut out for college should be tracked into quality trade and technical schools.) 

The way things are now, we have kids who work to help pay the family's bills and save up for college, then work during college, and then probably never finish college. (The NY Times recently showed just how dependent U.S. college graduation rates are on their parents' income.) Privileged children will never understand that world; they're carried up and away from it blithely and forever on their parents' shoulders. 

That's a failed system of education for top and bottom. For those who never make it to college or don't finish, the failure is obvious. For those who "succeed" their failure is less obvious, since they will have mastered at an Ivy "climbing the greasy pole of whatever hierarchy [they] decide to attach [themselves] to;" however, leadership for them has no higher meaning, or any meaning at all, it just means being on top: the One Percent.

Or as Deresiewicz  writes: "This system is exacerbating inequality, retarding social mobility, perpetuating privilege, and creating an elite that is isolated from the society that it’s supposed to lead."

UPDATE (08.17.2014):  Here's a pretty critical review by Carlos Lozada of Deresiewicz's Excellent Sheep in the Washington Post: "A mind is a terrible thing to waste at Yale." I think most of Lozada's criticisms miss the mark and are full of snark.

UPDATE (08.23.2014): And here's a pretty sympathetic interview with Deresiewicz in Slate: "My Most Offended Readers Are Ivy-Bound 18-Year-Olds."

By William Deresiewicz
July 21, 2014 | New Republic